the human shadow

by Elouise


Mature Dawn Redwood at Longwood Gardens

Yesterday we returned to Longwood Gardens. The photo above is from a stand of towering old trees. George MacDonald’s sonnet for the day had already caught my eye. Here it is, with my take on it below.

June 9

Faith is the human shadow of thy might.
Thou art the one self-perfect life, and we
Who trust thy life, therein join on to thee,
Taking our part in self-creating light.
To trust is to step forward out of the night—
To be—to share in the outgoing Will
That lives and is, because outgoing still.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul,
© 1994 Augsburg Fortress Press

What does MacDonald’s opening line mean? “Faith is the human shadow of thy might.”

I can’t help thinking about the grand trees I saw yesterday. It was hot and humid. The kind of day that begs for shade and breezes—which we found beneath huge trees that reach toward the sky. Could their welcome shade be like faith? An earthly shadow of God’s creative reach?

I imagine myself stepping out of the burning sun (MacDonald’s ‘night’), into the shade of a tree. Into faith that exists only because of ‘thee’ and ‘thy might.’ I didn’t create the shade. I can’t touch it. It’s just there. I feel it in every part of me. It relaxes and calms each burning, boiling molecule of my body. It gives me energy and ability to move forward and outward.

Imagine this. Perhaps God’s towering tree-like presence reaches out large limbs and arms supporting a leafy umbrella that offers respite and relief. I’m not the tree. Yet by standing within the tree’s shadow, I join myself to its life. To my true home, God’s presence which, unlike the tree, I cannot see with my eyes. I know this only by faith that glimpses and dwells within shadows of God’s presence.

The analogy isn’t perfect, but it helps me understand that trusting, stepping forward “out of the night” is a bit like stepping into the shade of a majestic tree. It’s a way of sharing in the life of the tree, of gaining strength and energy found only within its life, its ‘will,’ its outgoing nature.

And God? God’s will, like the tree, is outgoing. Reaching away from itself to create and recreate all nature including human nature. To become part of God’s life is to ‘join on’ by stepping forward ‘out of the night’ (or out of the burning heat).

Only then do I exist truly and share fully as a human participant in God’s living, ‘outgoing Will.’ God’s Will that lives only because it is indeed ‘outgoing still.’ Growing, expanding and creating new life in a strange yet beautiful partnership with us.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 June 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, 9 June 2015
Longwood Gardens